Sunday, March 20, 2005

Because I am a Christian

Leonard Pitts compares and contrasts two Christians named Smith. The first:
When the man came to, he asked why Smith had beaten him unconscious. "Because I'm Christian," Smith said.

The anecdote comes from a story about alleged prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay written by my colleague, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, and published earlier this month. Her report, based on recently declassified notes taken by lawyers representing the captives, included other claims of religious intimidation. Prisoners say their American captors kicked and stomped Korans, cursed Allah and denied them pants, knowing Muslims are prohibited from praying with bodies uncovered. A man who refused to surrender his pants said he was gang-tackled, beaten and pepper-sprayed.

The second:
Then, there's Ashley Smith.

She is, of course, the 26-year-old woman from Duluth, Ga., who was allegedly taken hostage this week by accused rapist and escaped Atlanta courtroom shooter Brian Nichols. Smith knew even before this what trouble is. Her husband was stabbed and died in her arms four years ago. And The New York Times reports that she has a history of petty crime — arrests for shoplifting, drunken driving and assault.

Then, says Smith's family, she found God and, through God, change. They say it was what she knew about hurting, about life at the end of your rope, that enabled her to reach out to Nichols. By her account, she talked to him about God. She encouraged him to think about his purpose in the divine design. She reminded him that the people he is alleged to have killed were loved. She made him pancakes. In a word, she ministered to him.

And the moral of the story:
I am loath to question anybody's bona fides where religious beliefs are concerned. Still, if the Smith at Guantánamo Bay embodied the faith he professed, might not Jumah al Dossari have wound up asking different questions?

Might he not have said, Smith, why do you treat me decently? Why do you respect my religion when the others don't? Why did you stop them from beating me?

Then it would have made sense, would have been a stirring affirmation, for Smith to reply, "Because I'm Christian."

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